Tag Archives: Mexico

Isla Mujeres – part 2

What can you do in Isla Mujeres once you are tired of lazing around at the beach and going shopping?

A popular attraction is the Tortugranja, a turtle farm run by the Government in partnership with private funding that can be easily reached by taxi or bicycle. The centre was established to protect the sea turtles and increase their population. Accessible to visitors, in addition to the indoor and outdoor turtle pools there is also a small section with other marine life like fish, crabs, seahorses.

Not far from Tortugranja there is a beautiful hidden cove that was indicated to us by a local lady. Most tourists go instead to the beach and restaurant area by the Playa Tiburon restaurant. It is still interesting to walk around there and watch local fishermen on their boats or preparing seashells for sale. And don’t forget to try the Tikinxik, a local traditional fish dish!

I also recommend anyone should hire a bicycle and go around and explore Isla Mujeres this way.
Cycle to the island’s southern point, where you will see the ruins of a tiny Mayan temple as well as an open air art exhibition. You may also come across a few iguanas enjoying the sun along the walking path.
Wander around the streets outside the main tourist area for a more authentic feel of the place. Have a fresh conocut from a stall by the side of the street. Enjoy riding in the sea breeze.

Then return to the main town for a drink and meal in the warm evening weather.

 

Isla Mujeres – part 1

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Statue of a woman in Isla Mujeres

The Island of Women. This is what the name “Isla Mujeres” means. Half hour by ferry from Cancun, this small island (7Km in length) has become in recent years a very popular tourist destination for those who are not so keen on the Cancun party scene and prefer a quieter environment.

mexicophotogallery_066Yet for me, arriving from quiet Bacalar and largely undeveloped Caye Caulker, it was like being in Las Vegas by the sea. I hated the crowds that packed the beaches during the day and the streets/restaurants/shops/bars in the evening. Too many tourists, not enough authenticity.

But there are reasons for the crowds: the island is beautiful.
Playa Norte (North Beach) – with its crystal clear waters and white sand – is amazing. I spent a lot of time in and out of the water, also to cool down from the heat.

The Malecon (esplanade) offers opportunities for leisurely walks. It was especially busy with families on Christmas day, everyone enjoyed the waves and the sea breeze. A section of the Malecon gets busier towards sunset, when fitness-addicts  appear for jogging and a varied range of outdoor gym-related activities. After dark you will also find people sitting for a relaxing end of the day in front of the sea.

The main town is certainly full of tourist shops but if you just wander away from the crowds and explore the streets further away from the main pedestrianised area, you will find interesting sights, including lots of beautiful murals painted on the house walls.

And if you want to buy souvenirs, avoid the overpriced shops along the main drag and head to the Artisan’s Market just off the town centre. Nothing is better than buying something that has just been sewn in front of you! And how about those old Singer sewing machines?!

More on Isla Mujeres in my next post…

Getting from Chetumal to Caye Caulker: a story from Latin America

I wanted to go to Caye Caulker, the small Belizean island everyone was talking about. The “go slow” island.

To get there I chose the water taxi route via Chetumal. Two companies cover the international transfer from Chetumal to Caye Caulker and its larger neighbour San Pedro and they run one service a day, on alternate days. I traveled with San Pedro Water Jets and booked my tickets online (US$120 return!) a couple of weeks before travelling. I must say that I wasn’t particularly impressed by the lack of data and payment security in all transactions involved – hey this is the 21st century, why do I have to enter all my card details on an Excel spreadsheet that I am then expected to email back?! I had no choice though, either that or you have to turn up at the ferry terminal on the day and hope that there are seats available.

At the ferry terminal in Chetumal everything ran smooth, though, all was well organised albeit slow. Reservation checked, tickets picked up, luggage taken care of, speedy immigration checks to exit Mexico (leaving my wallet MEX$390 lighter!).

Then an army van arrived. Three officers in camo uniform and carrying machine guns got off. What the heck is going on, I thought. Luggage inspection! A slow process of checking our large bags, all lined up by the boat, started. The sniffer dog did the job. Three times. When done with the large luggage we were asked to line up all our hand luggage on the ground and stand behind it, at a distance. The dog walked up and down sniffing all small bags a few times. We were all curious and slightly nervous at the same time. No matter how certain you are that you are not carrying anything of concern, three Mexican army officers with machine guns are not your preferred sight… When one of the rucksacks was identified by the sniffer dog as potentially suspicious and the owner had to walk forward and open everything for further inspection, we were all watching on tenterhooks. It was like a movie.

Eventually we departed. 1.5hrs later we reached the island of San Pedro where we got off the water taxi and waited to have our names called one by one to create a line (it felt like being back to primary school…). Inside the immigration building we had our passport stamped and the customs form taken, and paid US$1.5 for entry fee to Belize. It took forever but eventually those of us who were continuing to Caye Caulker got on a smaller speed boat and after another half hour we reached our final destination. The sun had already set.

So all in all everything ran smooth but the system seemed very old fashioned and extremely slow…and I thought that crossing the land border between Cambodia and Thailand had been snail-paced!

A few days later the return from Caye Caulker to Chetumal was done more or less in the same way, with an exit tax from Belize of US$20 and an entry tax to Mexico of MEX$390. Quite an expensive part of my whole trip… But it was all worth it. And you’ll see why in my next post!

A photo from my archives: The boats of Xochimilco

Xochimilco, Mexico, 2007.

Located 28 Km south of the historic centre of Mexico City, Xochimilco is a borough mostly famous for its 170 Km network of canals. These canals, together with a series of artificial islands, have made Xochimilco a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Colourful gondola-like boats called trajineras are very popular with tourists and the canals can get very busy on Sundays, when also the locals enjoy spending some relaxing time here.

 

A photo from my archives: Brujos of Catemaco

Catemaco, Mexico, 2012.

Catemaco is a town in the Veracruz state, east central Mexico, and a large part of its county forms the Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve, an area of beautiful mountains, volcanoes, lakes and coastal lagoons.
But it’s not all about nature here! Catemaco claim to fame is also related to its brujos/brujas (shamans and witches). As you walk around town you will repeatedly stumble across signs advertising potions, spells, herbal medicines, and many other witchcraft-related items and activities. The house in my photo was just one of the many examples, and it stood out for its use of primary colours.
Witchcraft is everywhere: even boat (lancha) rides over the Lake Catemaco will stop at odd locations and you will be advised that “Today there is incredible energy around the lake and it’s the right day for a spell. You can have it done here”. No thanks. And surely tomorrow you will say the same thing to another tourist, and another, and another…